You can’t think about yin, without thinking about yang, nor can you separate apples and oranges. Amongst other popular pairings is this one: Haïti: the poorest country in the western hemisphere – a title you’ll find emblazoned throughout many, if not all, media outlets. I, for one, am sick of hearing it and thankfully Haïti is entering a new age that will, in time, shed her of that repulsively offensive surname.
Since her independence, Haïti has suffered from two basic problems: economic exclusion and social inequality. It’s basically a country that doesn’t value its people. Before the revolution, the offspring of the slave owners and slaves were sent abroad to France to be educated, returning to the country to live a life of privilege. The product of a white slave owner and mahogany-coloured slave created mulattos (mixed race) or blan [white] as Haitians like to affectionately refer to them. They made up the majority of land-owners, leaving the dark-skinned illiterate poor Haitians to fend for themselves. In Haïti, if you ain’t got land, then you’re basically broke and pretty much destined to a life of poverty. So for centuries, this has been Haïti’s social model. That is, until now.
Since the earthquake five years ago, there has been a veritable wake-up call beckoning a serious need for change. Mathias Pierre (doesn’t his name alone ooze powerful god-like qualities?) believes that transformation will have to include a social contract if any sustainable modifications can take place.
Pierre, president and founder of the Foundation, ÊTRE Ayisyen (FEA) believes that he has formulated a plan to put Haïti’s miserable past behind her once and for all. FEA in Haitian creole, translates as, To Be Haitian. Pierre is calling for all Haitians in and out of the country, to stand up and be counted.
He uses the lessons he’s learned from his own upbringing to serve as a model for others to duplicate. He grew up poor, but his father told him that his life would be significantly better if he studied hard and became a professional. In Haïti these vocations translate into: doctor, lawyer or engineer. Pierre chose the latter even though attending school was often struggle, having to forego food just to afford the fees. But he persevered and eventually became an electrical engineer with a powerful vision.
FEA is merely one of four branches of his very successful company, GaMa Groupe, which is also comprised of GaMa Consulting S.A., GaMa Enterprises and KayTek Immobilies. The latter focuses on Haïti’s need for housing. His achievements did not go unnoticed and he was awarded the Digicel Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2006.
FEA was established in 2009 and Pierre believes his foundation offers the blueprint to help Haïti through its entrepreneurship development programmes.
Pierre says the vision is clearly defined. “It concerns a new inclusive and participative political pact,” he emphasised. He is at a loss when he considers how a country can be run without the inclusion of its people. I suppose it’s a bit like going to the doctor’s office and having her offer up a diagnosis without asking you for your symptoms. How can the doctor possibly know what’s wrong with you if you don’t tell her? It makes sense to engage the patient in his treatment. “Haitians have to be involved,” says Pierre emphatically.
His New Deal, as it is called, is based on three key points:
1. Quality and practical education
2. Economic decentralization
3. Creation and strengthening of institutions
“Education isn’t just about learning how to read,” says Pierre. “It’s about getting into the system and becoming useful for yourself, your family and for your country.”
As far as economic decentralisation, this is pretty self-explanatory. Power and wealth must be evenly distributed throughout the country. It cannot remain in the possession of one person or organisation as it is today.
A stark example of this need for decentralisation and one of the reasons the catastrophic earthquake of 2010 was even more tragic, was because of the sheer numbers of Haitians forced to migrate to the nation’s capital for work. This massive exodus has made it difficult to spread the wealth. Pierre believes that to address this problem, access to credit must be provided to those wanting to set up their own businesses outside the capital.
Last on the list focuses on Haïti’s weak and/or non-existent institutions. Many politicians remain above the law with no threat of consequences for any illegal activity. There is no country on the planet without its share of corruption; however, most countries have institutions in place to serve as a deterrent to would-be criminals. Law and order in Haïti is just the opposite: there is none!
Pulling all of this together will entail the assistance from the international community and Pierre is working closely with the likes of the Clinton Foundation. However, and more importantly, it will necessitate the belief of the Haitian people in a more prosperous future. Furthermore, it will especially require letting go of blaming the blan for the country’s demise; change has to come from within.
Pierre is also the author of the highly acclaimed book, The Power of a Dream. He says that a shift in the Haitian mindset is paramount; there must be some kind of accountability for the ways things are. I think this notion of accountability is akin to the example of dieting. You want to lose weight and get healthy, but you keep shoving crap food down your gullet and not exercising! Then you blame the following for your indulgences: the stresses of the day for binging; moaning about the amount of time spent sitting down on the job; or throwing in the fatigue-factor saying to yourself that you’re too tired after work to go to the gym. In other words, the circumstances in which you find yourself are beyond your control and are what prevent you from getting into the shape desired. These have become your excuses. You have to ask yourself, however, how is it then, that others are able to squeeze in time for exercise and make proper food consumption choices that help them towards their goals of health and fitness? Answer: they don’t succumb to their excuses!
The same idea applies to Haitians. If they can be united and share in the dream of a more prosperous future, do the work required and firmly hold the belief that this dream will come true, then a thriving future is pretty much guaranteed.
Like dieting, change won’t take place over night, however, in time, with discipline, the end goal is assured.